During lockdown, work became more human, leaders and employees shared new levels of flexibility and understanding. This ‘human-centric’ focus is here to stay. Research by Working Voices USA suggests it is part of the bedrock of hybrid working, best understood and developed through self-management skills that will help any business and its people safeguard their future.
Hybrid working is a new experience for many employees, company structures are changing, people are spending more time working from home. In an unsettling period of change, businesses are moving towards working patterns where structure and stability are reduced in favour of a streamlined, agile approach that is more responsive to unpredictable market forces.
Hybrid work patterns rely on a self-motivated, empowered, articulate workforce, able to operate collaboratively and independently. Demonstrating confidence and self-esteem in acting decisively and communicating clearly, employees will need to be just as adept at maintaining motivation and resilience if they are to cope with the changes expected of them.
In looking at these needs in detail, Jennifer Logue, Director of the Americas at Working Voices, has been working closely with clients in exploring three key themes relating to post-pandemic work practices. These are:
Jennifer, along with her team in New York and colleagues in the UK, have put together a comprehensive self-management curriculum, offering leaders and employees the skills they need in the new approach to work.
Long-term need for re-skilling
In May 2021, 85% of people working from home in the UK said they wanted a hybrid pattern of working in the future. It’s a similar story in the US, where more than 70% of workers said they wanted flexible work options to continue according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index. A survey of US executives by CNBC found that 45% of companies would adopt hybrid working in the second half of 2021, compared with just 32% preferring an ‘in-person first’ strategy .
The research is clear, employees and businesses are keen to explore flexible working. Little surprise then that a survey of HR professionals (July 2021) found that 58% believe there is a long-term need to re-skill employees. What should this involve?
A white paper on the future of work, from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and written in collaboration with our partners at Mercer, suggests that flexible working will involve a range of changes. Beyond employees spending more time at home, the WEF expects there will be more collaboration across different departments and geographic areas, flatter corporate hierarchies and continued unpredictability.
Similarly, Deloitte suggests businesses should “remove silos, flatten the organisation, simplify collaboration and decision-making processes to allow for agile responses to external and internal forces.” Leaders and staff will need to build and sustain connections with people in a workforce stretched by geography, structure and unpredictability. This then, the need to safeguard communication, is a key focus in re-skilling employees to cope with the onset of change in the months ahead.
Giving workers agency and choice
If organisations are to become more agile, less siloed and more responsive, employees will need to be empowered to play their part, particularly since many will be alone for part of the working week.
There’s general agreement on the value of a more human-focused way of thinking within business, “human-centric” – as the WEF puts it. Organisations committed to hybrid working will need to think about, in the words of Deloitte, “empowering workers with agency and choice over what they do, unleashing their interests and passions to organizational strategy and needs.”
If team leaders are no longer on hand for a quick, informal check-in on the project in progress, and the only alternative seems to be a scheduled meeting, then their team members need to be able to make autonomous, confident decisions. McKinsey anticipates more ‘asynchronous brainstorming’ – independent work carried out by team members at different times and in remote locations.
While research indicates there are benefits to a more hands-off approach, autonomy is a way of working that will need an enhanced level of focus and engagement from individuals. In particular, employees will need to develop their ability in critical thinking – learning to think systematically, becoming stronger at suspending judgement, and pausing to reflect rather than rushing to a conclusion.
Learning to think more decisively brings with it the ability to communicate more clearly. People who are confident in their decisions will need to be equally confident in talking or writing about them. They may also need to potentially defend their decisions assertively, which for some won’t come easy. For Jennifer Logue, these skills include learning to become stronger at speaking up and being heard, as well as understanding the difference between being assertive and aggressive.
Focusing on what you can control
Engagement can be undermined by the stress that comes with change. In managing this, a focus on constants, while learning to cope with uncertainty, will help to protect a sense of stability.
Managing change lays the groundwork for dealing with other difficulties sometimes associated with working alone. For example, isolation and a lack of motivation can both be exacerbated by changes in the structure and stability that employees may be used to.
For Jennifer Logue, staying optimistic in the workplace comes through “focusing on what you can control, not just fake optimism that actually disconnects us from our audience.” In practice, individuals must learn to understand their own sources of motivation and how to access them. These can include valuing the benefits of self-direction – recognising the upside of the autonomy that comes with hybrid working.
Ultimately, managing change, fending off isolation and maintaining motivation come down to resilience. A fundamental self-management skill, resilience is the art of converting pressures at work into performance. By helping employees identify and limit stress triggers, they can learn to change their thinking, which in turn will help to change behaviour.
How Working Voices can support you
The workplace no longer ends at the office door. Employees who are engaged in their work, skilled in thinking clearly and able to communicate easily, will quickly adapt to the new working environment. To support and develop these skills, Working Voices has put together a curriculum of self-management workshops:
- Maintaining Motivation
- Coping with Change
- Boosting Productivity
- Critical Thinking
- Staying Resilient
- Building Confidence for Impact
- Sustaining Relationships Virtually
- Speaking Up and Being Heard
- Personal Wellbeing
- Remote Work Life Balance
Each of our interactive, discussion and activity-based courses can be delivered virtually. They feature easily applicable techniques and tips that participants will be able to put into practice straight away.
Change will be a feature of working life for some time to come. As hybrid working becomes widespread, and leaders rely on the resilience of their workforce, skills that bridge the divide between home and the office will guard against the impact of change and open the way towards a stronger future.